Equanimity is a key to being able to navigate the sea of change in these days of political divisions, resistance, aggression, turmoil and uncertainty, and to play your role in the unfolding drama. It is a critical element in healthy relationships.
The Fighting Cock
Lao Tzu tells of an Emperor who turns a prized rooster over to his bird trainer to make it a master fighter. Every day the emperor asked the trainer, "Is the bird ready?" The trainer responded first that the bird is too vain and confident, then, he's too easily aroused; he gets angry, threatening and excited. Finally the bird is ready. He stands serene; calmly present. His power is transmitted subtly by his presence. He is not aggressive, ruffled or angry. "No other fighter will stand against him. They will turn and flee."
Equanimity is mental calmness, composure, equilibrium, balance, mental or emotional stability and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation under tension or strain.
"It is evenness of mind, unshakeable freedom of mind, a state of inner equipoise that cannot be upset by gain and loss, honor and dishonor, praise and blame, pleasure and pain." according to Bhikku Bodhi a Buddhist teacher.
The Sanskrit word for equanimity points to the ability to look over the entire situation, objectively, and to not be attached to one side or another.
There is equanimity in the moment when all needs are satisfied, there is no need to do anything. Equanimity is NOT disturbed when thoughts and feelings arise. It is disturbed when one latches onto a thought, usually about a feeling, and follows a chain of thought and behavior.
We lose touch with equanimity when we become identified with or lost in thoughts, habits, biases and the behavior they drive.
Objectivity and Responsiveness
Equanimity brings the objectivity needed to respond rather than react.
Reacting is acting mindlessly based on conditioned preferences, biases and habits. Response implies a mindful action that skillfully corresponds to current needs. Skillful response is appropriate to the needs of the situation. Reaction is often the opposite.
Being objective does not mean being without preferences and values. It simply means seeing things as they are (including your preferences) and accepting them, at least for the moment. In the next moment things will change. Any action you take will influence that change, to one degree or another.
Equanimity is a platform for assessment; applying values and principles and choosing to act. Action emerges from a calm space rather than the turmoil of reactive behavior. Equanimity doesn't mean passively allowing things to continue. It means being able to take a step back, free from the reaction to fear and anger, to decide on the most effective action.
For example, screaming, throwing insults, stones, half-truths, or bombs may feel good. Doing it allows you to escape from the horrible, unacceptable feelings of frustration, anger and fear. But does it accomplish anything besides that? Does it add value to those around you? How does it affect your self-image and the way others see you?
Equanimity in Relationships
Equanimity in relationships is an extension of the more general quality.
In wisdom traditions there is the ideal of an attitude of acceptance of all people, treating them equally, as if they were in our most intimate group. Christ loves all unconditionally. In the Buddhist tradition the four immeasurable qualities are compassion, loving kindness, sympathetic joy and equanimity, the application of the other three qualities to everyone, without distinction.
Imagine being able to wish all good things for your enemies, friends and those who are in neither camp. How would that change you and the world around you?
Applying equanimity in the practical, "real", world we live in is not so easy. We have expectations, preferences, biases and values. Many are faced with the challenge of wanting to calm down and to cultivate a sense of loving kindness and compassion for everyone, while feeling justifiably angry at racists and other "bad" people.
Outrage and Action
For example, I came away from the film "13th" frustrated and hating racists and the people and institutions who let them have their way. I come away from the news frustrated, fearful and angry at conservatives and alt-rightists. Others may come away with "justifiable" anger at the media for showing a distorted picture of reality.
Without equanimity, we differentiate between friends and enemies, family and strangers. We wish all good things for our friends and family - the people in our in-group. We withhold it from our enemies - those that don't share our values and objectives, who don't do what we want them to do or would do us harm. As for the rest, we just ignore them.
Do you justify hatred, displays of anger, violence, non-caring and cruelty by reinforcing the differences between "us" and "them?"
Taking It Home
We can personally avoid this the more we remember that we are truly one group, one great web of interacting individuals in which, as the Tibetan practice goes, everyone has been our mother at one time or another.
Cultivating equanimity requires intention and effort. It begins with the awareness that equanimity is possible, is in fact a natural quality of mind and that it is of great benefit.
With intention, there is effort to practice exercises to replace old ways of thinking that are barriers to equanimity.
One exercise is to wish that everyone you see any time anywhere will be happy and free from suffering. Make yourself a loving kindness beacon and see how that transforms you.
Another is to visualize the vast array of beings spread out across the universe, thinking that everyone has some degree of pain, just like you, and wishing that it be relieved.
Another is to practice Mindfulness meditation to enhance your ability to see emotions before they take over and drive you to react. Mindfulness enables the clear seeing of conditioned thought and its symptoms. Once seen, you can apply the effort to allow your mind to return to equanimity.
Remind yourself that your choice is to accept things as they are, whether you like them or not, or to deny reality. Once you accept the current reality with equanimity, you are ready to do what you can to change it or to leave it as it is to let it change on its own.